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Shadow Monsters

Note the growl.

I put on my culture pants and headed on over to the Museum of Modern Art yesterday with the founder of PlayScienceLab (apparently, this is how I roll now) to take in the exhibit Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900-2000.

The final piece in the otherwise non-digital exhibit was an interactive installation by Philip Worthington entitled Shadow Monsters [youtube and another youtube!]. This thing is so utterly brilliant. Worthington plays with combining shadow puppets and the fear of monsters lurking in the shadows. What comes out on the other side is so much fun I can hardly stand it. Like everyone else, I had a huge smile on my face the entire time — whether I was watching or making monsters.

Would-be puppet masters stand in front of a lighted wall, and a camera captures their silhouettes. The images are then manipulated and projected onto another wall that our puppet masters are facing. The effect is as though the lighted wall is casting their shadows — their monster-ified shadows. “Holes” enclosed by shadows become eyes. Curved or ‘V’-like shadows become mouths with fangs and teeth. Circular shadows sprout spikes and noodle-like hair. Growls, burps, and farts complete the ambiance. Did I mention that this thing is brilliant?

This piece captures the essence of a playful technology. Rules are at play, but this is not a game. There are no points to be won; the objective is the enjoyment of the experience itself, the discovery of the embodied self playing a monster in the shadows. There are elements of discovery and of cooperation in the act of an emergent creation. One thing it does lack is longterm engagement. After the initial moments of joyous discovery, I’m not sure if this is an experience that would motivate continued, repeated playing in the future.

I love this piece so much. It reminds me of a concept I cooked up a while ago. Darn these classes! I really need to make that thing happen.

UPDATE (Oct. 6, 2012): And… the aforementioned founder of PlayScienceLab, Ali Bryant, left the first comment below. Yeah. She’s pretty much right.

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Reader Comments (1)

Definitely the highlight of that exhibit! I was afraid I'd never get you out of there. Those poor other kids really wanted to play with it too.

October 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAli B.
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